Jul 04, 2016

    China punters get kick out of game bets


    IN CHINA'S eastern city of Hangzhou, Mr Li could barely watch as Portuguese striker Cristiano Ronaldo lined up a penalty kick in a finely balanced Euro 2016 group match against Austria.

    Mr Li had reason to be nervous: He had bet tens of thousands of yuan on Portugal to win.

    With 10 minutes to go in the game in Paris, Real Madrid star Ronaldo hit the post, the game ended in a draw and Mr Li lost the money he had bet using Tencent Holdings' popular messaging app WeChat.

    Amid a surge of Chinese interest in global football, a side effect has been a record spike in illegal gambling online, prompting multi-million-dollar busts by police on betting rings, and tech giants like Tencent and Alibaba Group Holding cracking down on gambling activity on their apps.

    Mr Li said he used a private chat group on WeChat, where most of the betters were friends. Winnings were distributed via bank transfer, Alibaba-linked Alipay, WeChat or "red packets", digital versions of traditional envelopes stuffed with cash.

    In the run-up to the Euro 2016 final in Paris on Sunday, Chinese police said they have seen a surge in illegal gambling online. In a single bust recently, police in Guangdong arrested 147 people and froze funds worth nearly 100 million yuan (S$20.2 million).

    Alibaba and Tencent acknowledge the issue and said they have anti-gambling systems to spot illegal behaviour.

    Ant Financial, the Alibaba affiliate which operates Alipay, has a three-tiered system to spot gambling, with computer systems analysing user behaviour and a line of human checks.

    Tencent said it has put limits on more than 8,000 WeChat groups. It has also limited the payment and "red packet" capabilities of more than 6,000 accounts.